Native Gardens

Forums Question: Native Gardens

Chief Judge Charles E. Williams, Circuit Judge of the 12th Judicial Court and Steering Committee Chair posed this question for this year’s online discussion. Read his bio by clicking here.

The play Native Gardens challenges the viewer to ponder what it means to be an American in this country. There is growing division in our country over who is and is not entitled to be called an American citizen. The debate also extends into what constitutes being a loyal American and spills over into what shared values, if any, all Americans should have about their country. This division is the root for many of our current (and sometimes violent) protests along with arguments about what constitutes true patriotism.

The 2017-2018 Forums Question

Does the recognition and pride of one’s foreign ancestry or place of birth defeat the idea of being an American? 

Please explain.

The Responses

Luz Corcuera is the executive director of UnidosNow. Read her bio by clicking here.

Millions of people from around the world want to come to America. America is the ideal of freedom, diversity, and prosperity. The pledge of allegiance to the United States Flag has keywords: “One Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Those of us who make the choice to be in America and to become Americans are proud of our individual culture, language, and values that we add to this beautiful tapestry that makes America Great.

We empower every human being to live to their fullest potential, to recognize and embrace their uniqueness, to be proud of who they are, and we encourage them to integrate into the larger society and contribute to this America that embraces us with open arms. We see through history that many great people who were not born in this country have made significant contributions in the fields of science, arts, and medicine. America not only embraced them but provided the fertile soil for them to thrive. Nobody ever questioned their place of birth or their loyalty to America.

I remind myself of the words of Muriel James, a distinguished mentor and author: “It takes courage to experience the freedom that comes with autonomy, courage to accept intimacy and directly encounter other persons, courage to take a stand in an unpopular cause, courage to choose authenticity over approval and to choose it again and again, courage to accept the responsibility for your own choices, and, indeed, courage to be the unique person you really are”. -Muriel James

Rose Chapman is presently Board Chair of Josh Provides Epilepsy Foundation and on the Board of SCOSA. Read her bio by clicking here.

First and foremost one should be proud of whom we are and accept ourselves, the accident of where you are born should not dictate our feelings of being an American.

One’s foreign ancestry makes us who we are as well as our family, community, gender, ethnicity, and race as well as being an American. We are a sum of many parts that gives us individuality, self-esteem, and creativity. So recognizing our foreign ancestry and place of birth has nothing to do with the idea of being American.

Kenneth M. Pierce, now retired in Sarasota, is a former journalist and magazine publisher. Read his bio by clicking here.

We’re proud to be Floridians, right? Yet the birthplace of nearly two-thirds of Florida’s residents was not in Florida, but somewhere else (64%, as of 2012). If they hadn’t come, then the Florida we know would not exist. Imagine if there were two-thirds fewer homes, payrolls, schools, and stores: no newcomers, no modern Florida.

This is so easy to see in Florida, where the population shot up from nothing in only the last 100 years. But it’s true too for the entire US, which was mostly a wilderness called “the new world” only 200 years ago.

Since America is—and has been—made by a stream of arrivals both recent and not so recent, it has often been a place where old-timers get into conflict with newcomers—though the conflicts often bear the names attached by earlier arrivals to the latest groups of newcomers, be they the Irish, the Chinese, the Hispanics—or even the city-slickers, the Unbelievers, or the Nouveau Riche.

Part of the humor in Native Gardens arises because both families believe firmly in civility and mutual respect towards members of different national and religious groups (sometimes referred to as the American Idea), yet allow these convictions to be overwhelmed at times by their different plant and landscape preferences, by their desire to increase their property’s economic value, and by their willingness to deviate from neighborly norms to get their way.

But if personal interests sometimes triumph over the desires of both families to be “politically correct,” the truly shared and deeper feelings triggered by an unexpected need for all to participate in childbirth lead to a real desire to befriend, compromise, and even change personal views. It’s fun to see the harmony break out at the play’s end, but it’s more than that: it’s a small, but welcome example of the wisdom, humanity and mutual benefit that underlies the American Idea.